…An interesting question and one that I’ve been giving thought to over the last few weeks, especially during my time as a panelist at a recent Guardian Newspaper / Cranfield University roundtable on the subject.
How companies not only keep pace with technological innovations but use those innovations to deliver compelling solutions and services to their customers is a key part of business today. Technology leaders within a business undertake a vital role in this, regardless of whether they have a senior management position or not – technology leaders exist at all levels.
Creating compelling visions alongside the culture that supports innovation are some of the skills needed. This might include creating the space for engineers, designers and scientists to explore ideas, for networking teams to draw on diverse experience and knowledge, and having the situational awareness to judge what ideas could be moved forward into a product or service (which may include engaging other teams able to focus on delivery).
There are skills which support this, and leading more generally, are those softer, people-focused skills. A technology leader probably isn’t the technology expert. They are likely to act as servant-leaders to their teams, guiding, coaching and supporting their teams in making the vision reality.
I think an often overlooked aspect to technology leadership is how a strong technology leader will proactively support stakeholders through the change that new technology enables, both the upsides and the downsides. Being empathetic to why customers and employees may fear change, communicating, involving stakeholders and being upfront that technology may bring downsides for some people (they may perceive their role as being threatened for example) is as important as promoting the benefits of the technological innovations. This includes recognising their own reactions to the changes – it may significantly disrupt their business, for example, or threaten an area of their own expertise. A technology leader needs to carry all the stakeholders along on the journey and not just the technical experts.
I was reminded the other day that technological disruption has been going on since the industrial revolution; it’s the pace of technology development today that creates greater challenges than before. Companies and their employees need to adapt faster, which means faster exploration of technology, a faster pace of learning and an increased pace of change.
Of course there are many other technology leadership skills too – maybe something for another blog?